Ship grave

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As ship grave (in lengths of less than 15 and m boat grave ( Swedish Båtgrav )) refers to a iron , vendel- or Viking Age burial in a larger watercraft often within a hill tomb as from the Baltic states , Denmark , Germany ( Haithabu ), Finland , France , Great Britain and Scandinavia are not known from Ireland .

The exposed Ladby ship
Burial mound above the Ladby ship
Model of a ship's grave

In written records there are numerous references to burials in boats and ships with different source values, for example in a travel report by the Arab Ahmad Ibn Fadlān from the years 971/972. One of the best-known incidents that Ibn Fadlan describes is the funeral of a Rus skipper who is burned with his ship, a large part of his goods and a ritually killed female slave .

Boat graves are described in song and epic in the Icelandic sagas . The funeral of Unnr describes how, after the funeral meal, her corpse was brought to a prepared hill and placed in a boat. A special form of ship burial in the form of a ship suspension can be found in the Beowulfepos (Beowulf 26-52) at Scyld, which, equipped with treasures, is handed over to the sea.


The ship settlements are boat-shaped stone settlements that mark fire or urn graves . There is a cultural difference between the Sutton Hoo grave and later boat graves.

Sutton Hoo

One of the most famous sites for a ship grave is Sutton Hoo in Suffolk , England , where there is a burial ground with a total of 19 burial mounds. Here, a 27 m long ship has been excavated with 38 rowing 1939 in the largest hills, a nave or precursor of a Viking ship . In the middle was a burial chamber in which a burial could not be clearly proven, but which was equipped with numerous grave goods . Among other things, a golden belt buckle, a sword decorated with gold and garnets, an equally decorated bag and sword hanger, 10 silver bowls, a gold-plated bronze helmet, Merovingian coins, a silver plate of Byzantine origin and a pair of silver spoons were found there. Sutton Hoo is the richest grave find in England, though the Staffordshire treasure is more significant. The burial dates, according to the coins found in the grave, to around 625 AD; in research it is often assumed that it represents the tomb of King Rædwald of East Anglia . So it is pre-Viking and therefore like the boat grave of Snape (Suffolk) to be considered separately.

A second boat burial was located in grave mound 2, but this was affected by robbery excavations at an early stage, the few remains indicate that it can be dated around the same time as grave 1.

Ship graves in Europe

The most common archaeological finds from ship graves in Northern Europe date from the Viking Age . If the Nydam ship was used around 300 AD, without the background of a burial, nor as a victim for successfully warding off an invasion, a number of ship burials by Scandinavians have come down to us from the period between 800 and 1050 AD. The ships were not built specifically for burial, but were previously in everyday use as trading and war ships. Among other things, dogs, horses and riding gear, jewelry, tableware and weapons were found as grave goods, which, in addition to the effort already made for the burial site, allow conclusions to be drawn about the high social status of the buried person.

In the ship's grave in which the Oseberg ship was found, the skeletons of the concubines were preserved in the burial chamber, but that of the queen was scattered. There was also a smashed bed to be found. The same was found in the tumulus where the Gokstad ship was found. This finding is interpreted to mean that the deceased should not have a home there. It was about the total annihilation of the dead. The dead man was a haugbonde , a " barrow dweller ". The belief that the dead lived in the burial mound persisted into modern times.

Many of the ship burials that have been excavated in the meantime show destruction that is not only attributed to ancient grave robberies , but also to reburial in Christian graves ( translatio ).

Finds and sites are among others

Valle i Rolvsøy Shop-Dal, Beets in Rygge, Hunn in Borge, Pipes Nordre in Rygge, on Kirkeøy Wal- and Gjellestad mountain Jellhaugen

The ship cemetery of Skuldelev from the early 11th century, however, was not used as a burial place, but as a barrier in front of the port of Roskilde .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Beck, p. 281.
  2. Beck, p. 283
  3. Beck, p. 284
  4. ^ AD 700 - Sutton Hoo. The Timeline of Britain, Current Archeology, May 24, 2007.
  5. Robert Bohn: History of seafaring. CH Beck, Munich 2011, pp. 32–33.
  6. Müller-Wille, p. 272.
  7. Brøgger p. 94.
  8. ↑ In 1921 a boat grave from the Late Iron Age was excavated in a Bronze Age burial mound on the island of Amager in Øresund . The boat, which was only preserved by a pattern of nail scraps, was 10 to 12 m long. The grave, dated to the first half of the 8th century, contained traces of grave goods: bucket , sword , spear , riding equipment and chest, but no trace of a body [1] .


  • Heinrich Beck: boat grave. II. Written tradition. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde . Vol. 3, 1978, pp. 281-286.
  • Anton Wilhelm Brøgger and Haakon Shetelig: Vikingeskipene. Deres forgjengere og etterfølgere (German: Viking ships . Their predecessors and successors). Oslo 1950.
  • Torsten Capelle : Ship burials and ship graves. Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Vol. 27, 2004, pp. 50–52.
  • Michael Müller-Wille : Boot grave. I. Archeology. Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Vol. 3, 1978, pp. 249–281.

Web links

Commons : Ship's Grave  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files